15 recommendations to make you a better programmer

I often give the same advice over and over to programmers that I work with. Most of the time I give advice on things to do with regards to coding and that works out pretty well, but “don’ts” are just as important as the dos. Let’s look at the 15 things a programmer should watch for. Most of these are geared toward object-oriented languages, but some can apply to procedural,functional languages as well.

  1. Don’t forget the tenets of object-oriented programming, Inheritance, Encapsulation and Polymorphism.
  2. Don’t overuse inheritance. Inheritance should make sense. Ask yourself about the relationship. If “is a”, then you should inherit, if “has a” then it should be a relationship off the owner.
  3. Watch your method/function/subroutine lengths. If a method or function gets longer than 5-10 lines, you are probably missing an opportunity to abstract or extract functionality. The longer a method is, the more complex it will become exponentially.
  4. Before you start to “roll your own”, spend some time looking for open source solutions or blog articles where someone solved this problem before. There is nothing wrong with leveraging someone else’s hard work. Chances are someone else will take over your work at some point and it is easier for them if it is a solution that they can find support for by a Google search. Also, think about the testing, maintenance time with regards to rolling your own solution. Aside from that the chances that one person can produce a solution better than a community project is unlikely no matter how good you think you are.
  5. Don’t hack. There is a lot to be said for code written during a time crunch, but more often than not, programmers will use this excuse to shortcut a solution and not take time to do it the way they know it should be done. You want the next programmer to look at your code and pat you on the back for your solution, not curse you in disgust.
  6. Don’t forget about reusability. Think about every line of code you write. Ask yourself if what you are doing is going to be repetitive by you or someone else. If it is, then abstract it to a utility class and reuse it. Never just copy code from one place to another when you could extract it to a utility or utilize polymorphism to address the need.
  7. Don’t use obscure variable names. It should be very clear what data a variable contains when another person looks at your code.
  8. Don’t forget to ask for a code review or design review. No one is perfect. You should always walk through your code with a peer with both of you sitting side by side. Explain your rational, what techniques you used and ask the reviewer for recommendations. Two heads are better than one. Also, you should do this early and often. Don’t wait until you finish a project to ask for a review because by then, it may be too late to fix.
  9. Don’t use global or member variables when a local one would suffice. I’ve seen this a few times before. A junior programmer will scope their variables as wide as possible. This not only causes confusion when others look at the code, but it can cause unintended consequences in your applications.
  10. Don’t forget about threading and thread-safety. Threading is a difficult concept for unseasoned programmers. It can bite you really quick if you don’t think about it. Complex applications may have many threads accessing the same resources and if you’re not concentrating on managing this, then you can get junk data, crashes and unexpected results. And DO NOT synchronize everything as a solution to thread safety, else performance will suffer.
  11. Don’t code first and ask questions later. You should understand the problem domain and the goals you want to accomplish before you even write one line of code. Ideally, you will design the application and run through your mental sanity checks in your head well ahead of actually putting code onto a screen.
  12. Don’t forget about unit testing. Unless you just enjoy spending hours and hours testing your application or sitting with your QA resource, you should unit test your code at the lowest levels and run these tests as regression tests along with your builds. Remember that a unit test is for very small bits of code. A unit test does not take the place of actual functional testing of your application, but it sure makes it easier.
  13. Don’t forget to comment and don’t over comment. If you want to provide yourself a hint, reminder or give that hint to another programmer, use a comment to make the point. Don’t over comment your code either as too many comments are an indication of complexity and you need to revisit your code for simplification or refactoring.
  14. Don’t forget to refactor your code as you go. If you see areas of your code you need to revise, do so as early an opportunity as possible. If you wait, the problem can be compounded by other code that utilizes it. Never wait until the end of a project to refactor, you will never get the chance and by then, it is a daunting task.
  15. Don’t forget to layer and loosely couple. Do not forget to keep your code as loosely coupled as possible. A good strategy is to layer your code, e.g. DAO layer, service layer, integration layer, Controllers, UI layer, etc. For example, a UI Layer should never access classes directly from the DAO Layer, but should utilize the controllers to access data, which in turn access service layer and so on.

While this is not an all inclusive list, it does give a programmer a great advantage. Being a programmer is definitely about working smarter and not harder.